I watched a documentary on Netflix that Michael Pollen wrote and starred in called “Cooked.” The same Michael Pollen who wrote THE OMINVORE’S DILEMMA. It was very well done. There were four episodes broken into the four classic elements: fire, water, air, and earth. Fire was about roasting and cooking. Water was about soups, stews, or anything in a pot. Air was about bread and yeast. Earth was about microbes, bacteria, and fermentation. The overarching theme was the contest between convenience and authenticity in food. The more food is processed, the more profitable to the processor it becomes. The series dealt with the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and its relationship to fast and processed food, and how it is so much cheaper for calories in the middle aisles of grocery stores. Poor people can’t afford fresh food.
Missy met with some folks at the local food bank in town and was talking to me about how few people know how to cook and prepare food today. The people at the food bank told her that many kids don’t understand the relationship of the plants and animals and what they look like before the are processed. This is exactly what was in the documentary. As people move further and further from fresh to processed, they lose the sense of what they are really eating. I guess “soylent green” may not be that far away after all.
Today we opened the food pantry at church. It is profoundly humbling to be there helping. I have worked food lines before, and “the hungry” were mostly homeless, addicted, and mentally ill street people who wanted something to eat. The church food pantry is a totally different clientele — older white women who are stretching their social security check by coming to the pantry to save a week’s worth of food expense. We give them bags that have, among other things, peanut butter, grits, beans, rice, a can of chicken breast, soup, jello, spaghetti and a can of sauce, a loaf of bread, and a bag of fresh veggies (usually onions, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, bananas, and peppers). Today Missy cut some rosemary from the gardens at church, and we handed it out. It was shocking to see how many people didn’t know fresh rosemary and were surprised by its fragrant smell. Only two declined to get rosemary or sage to take home to season their food. I wonder how many of them can make a good soup or stew, bake a loaf of bread, or roast a chicken. Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, but the Spanish folklore tells us, if you give a man a fish he is sated for a day, but if you teach him to fish he can feed himself the rest of his life.
I have wondered out loud whether cooking classes would be a good outreach program at our church. I wonder if anybody would even care. It is so much easier to pull up to the drive through window than to prepare a meal. But they are missing the smells and the tastes that can only come from home-cooked meals, prepared from scratch. There is a PBS series called “The Mind of a Chef” that follow various chefs around as they cook and explain how they develop a cuisine. What jumps out is the utter dependency on the ingredients. If you use high quality ingredients, you get a substantially better dish, no matter how you prepare it. As the agricultural industry strives for efficiency, the taste and the flavor suffers. In one of the episodes, it mentions Benton’s smoked hams in Madisonville, TN. So I drove up there and bought some bacon, ham, and sausage. WOW!! The sausage has so much flavor, it isn’t even funny. I am sure the quality of the pigs is superior to the mass-produced pork in the grocery store. But in the same breath the atmosphere in the market area of Benton’s is so much more humble than the “organic” meat market here in Chattanooga. I can’t breath in there because it is so smug. What I am saying is that there are plenty of folks out there producing high quality ingredients that are humble working people — farmers, herders, and breeders who are just doing what they have always done. Now, how do we find a way to marry that to the unwashed masses that are the prey of the processed food industry? How do we, as a church family, transfer the old-timey skill sets of our grandparents to the apartment dwellers around us? In my mind, this is true ministry to our neighbors — to equip people so they are able to cook for themselves and give them a space to grow their food.